DC 134 Historical Background
The Ohio newspapers of the early 1830's painted the "Mormonite" sect as a misdirected gaggle of idiots, lacking any reason or common sense. The fantastic religious claims of angels, revelation, and golden plates were regularly ridiculed. By 1835, however, the Mormon settlement in Kirtland had become a large well-established force at the polls. This made many nervous. If these people could believe in angels, what could be expected from them politically?
"These religious impostors'... object is to acquire political power as fast as they can, without any regard to the means they made use of. They are ready to harness in with any party that is willing to degrade themselves by asking their assistance. They now carry nearly a majority of this township, and every man votes as directed by the prophet and his elders. Previous to the recent township elections here, it was generally understood that the Mormons and Jacksonians had agreed to share the 'spoils' equally, in consequence of which the other citizens thought it useless to attend the polls. This brought out an entire Mormon ticket which they calculated to smuggle in, independent of the 'democrats' not under the orders of the prophet. This caused the citizens to rally and make an effort, which, by a small majority, saved the township from being governed by revelation for the year to come." (Ohio, Painesville Telegraph, Friday, April 17, 1835 from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/OH/paintel4.htm)
The Northern Times, an early LDS publication, contained the political views of Oliver Cowdery, its editor. In it, he attacked the United States Bank and supported (rather ironically) Van Buren's nomination for president. The local response was as follows:
"The Mormonites in this county, [as if] weary of the dull monotony of dreams and devotion, of visions and vexation -- of profitless prophecys, and talking in tongues, -- have concluded to turn their attention to political matters. A paper entitled the Northern Times has made its appearance from their press in Kirtland, bearing the name of O. Cowdery, one of their leaders and preachers, as Editor. The editor breaks forth with a flood of words, filling seven columns under his editorial head -- pounces upon the dead carcass of the United States Bank with most Quixotic ferocity -- talks about 'WIGS' -- praises the President -- and says, the nomination of Van Buren 'we still add, would meet our mind, and receive our warm support.' As the editor professes to have communications with the spirits of the invisible world, and certifies that he has seen an Angel, and 'hefted' the golden plates of the Prophet, he will be a political anomaly, if not a dangerous opponent. (Painesville Telegraph, Friday, Feb. 20, 1835 from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/OH/paintel4.htm)
A great way to discredit the Mormons was to make them un-American. While their political views were not nearly as extravagant as portrayed, the Mormons had not yet set the record straight regarding their constitutional views.
The occasion was a conference of the Church. Interestingly, the Prophet Joseph Smith was on a mission in Michigan and therefore absent from the conference. The Conference produced "A Testimony of the Twelve Apostles to the Truth of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants"-later signed by the original Twelve Apostles of this dispensation. Next is recorded an "Article on Marriage" which includes the phrase, "we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife... except in the case of death." The next article is the statement "Of Governments and Laws in General" which later became section 134-signed by Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon.
B. H. Roberts
It should be observed that this "Article on Marriage" presented by W. W. Phelps, and also the one on "Government and Laws in General," presented by Oliver Cowdery, were not presented as revelations and were not published as such at the time, but were expressions of course, of the belief of the Saints at that period on those subjects. It should also be noted that these two articles were presented and acted upon in the absence of the Prophet who was at the time visiting Saints and preaching in Michigan. (History of the Church, 2:246 footnote)
While the doctrines presented in section 134 came from Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, the content certainly was approved by Joseph Smith as well as subsequent latter-day prophets. The problem was that the church was being attacked on all fronts.
We pause here, and offer a remark upon the saying which we learn has gone abroad, and has been handled in a manner detrimental to the cause of truth, by saying, "that in preaching the doctrine of gathering, we break up families, and give license for men to leave their families, women their husbands, children their parents and slaves their masters, thereby deranging the order and breaking up the harmony and peace of society." We shall here show our faith, and thereby, as we humbly trust, put an end to these false and wicked misrepresentations, which have caused, we have every reason to believe, thousands to think they were doing God's service, when they were persecuting the children of God. (History of the Church, 2:255)
The first amendment to the constitution-the first of our famous Bill of Rights-cryptically declares, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Wisely, the language of this first bill of rights is brief. The question is, how should "freedom of religion" be interpreted? What does it really mean? Section 134 answers that question-at least for Mormons. It is our anthem as to how the first amendment should be practiced. As President Anthony W. Ivins said, "I ask you, my brethren and sisters, I ask the people of the world, where can a better bill of rights, defining the proper relationship of the Church and the State, the civil and the ecclesiastical authority, be found, than that which I have read (i.e. D&C 134)? Can error or justifiable objection be found in it?" (Conference Report, April 1923, Afternoon Session 89.)
While the guilty may plead the fifth, the Mormons plead the first! It is the reason the gospel was restored in the United States of America. Prior to the constitution, could Mormonism have survived in America? The Salem Witch Trials suggest not. Indeed, there was barely enough religious tolerance in the 1830's for such a religion to survive.
M. Russell Ballard
The principles and philosophies upon which the U.S. constitutional law is based are not simply the result of the best efforts of a remarkable group of brilliant men. They were inspired by God, and the rights and privileges guaranteed in the Constitution are God-given, not man-derived. The freedom and independence afforded by the Constitution and Bill of Rights are divine rights-sacred, essential, and inalienable. In the 98th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord indicates that the "law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me." (D&C 98:5.)
I focus my comments on sixteen significant words found in the First Amendment to the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
These words are simple and direct. Their message and meaning appear to be clear. But through the years presidents, Congress, and the courts have interpreted them in so many different ways that many people today have no sense of the perspective upon which they were based.
Believe it or not, at one time the very notion of government had less to do with politics than with virtue. According to James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution: "We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of the government-far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God." (Russ Walton, Biblical Principles of Importance to Godly Christians, New Hampshire: Plymouth Foundation, 1984, p. 361)
George Washington agreed with his colleague James Madison. Said Washington: "Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." (James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the President, 1789-1897, U.S. Congress, 1899, vol. 1, p. 220.)
Nearly one hundred years later, Abraham Lincoln responded to a question about which side God was on during the Civil War with this profound insight: "I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side." (Abraham Lincoln's Stories and Speeches, ed. J. B. McClure, Chicago: Rhodes and McClure Publishing Co., 1896, pp. 185-86.)
Madison, Washington, and Lincoln all understood that democracy cannot possibly flourish in a moral vacuum and that organized religion plays an important role in preserving and maintaining public morality. Indeed, John Adams, another of America's Founding Fathers, insisted: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion." (John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles F. Adams, 1854)
Yet that is precisely the position we find ourselves in today. Our government is succumbing to pressure to distance itself from God and religion. Consequently, the government is discovering that it is incapable of contending with people who are increasingly "unbridled by morality and religion." A simple constitutional prohibition of state-sponsored church has evolved into court-ordered bans against representations of the Ten Commandments on government buildings, Christmas manger scenes on public property, and prayer at public meetings. Instead of seeking the "national morality" based on "religious principle" that Washington spoke of, many are actively seeking a blind standard of legislative amorality, with a total exclusion of the mention of God in the public square.
Such a standard of religious exclusion is absolutely and unequivocally counter to the intention of those who designed our government. Do you think that mere chance placed the freedom to worship according to individual conscience among the first freedoms specified in the Bill of Rights-freedoms that are destined to flourish together or perish separately? The Founding Fathers understood this country's spiritual heritage. They frequently declared that God's hand was upon this nation, and that He was working through them to create what Chesterton once called "a nation with the soul of a church." (Richard John Neuhaus, "A New Order for the Ages," speech delivered at the Philadelphia Conference on Religious Freedom, 30 May 1991.) While they were influenced by history and their accumulated knowledge, the single most influential reference source for their work on the Constitution was the Holy Bible. ("Religion in a Free Society," Ensign, Oct. 1992, 65-66)
DC 134:1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man
Dallin H. Oaks
U.S. citizens have an inspired Constitution, and therefore, what? Does the belief that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired affect citizens' behavior toward law and government? It should and it does.
U.S. citizens should follow the First Presidency's counsel to study the Constitution. They should be familiar with its great fundamentals: the separation of powers, the individual guarantees in the Bill of Rights, the structure of federalism, the sovereignty of the people, and the principles of the rule of the law. They should oppose any infringement of these inspired fundamentals.
They should be law-abiding citizens, supportive of national, state, and local governments. The twelfth Article of Faith declares:
We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
The Church's official declaration of belief states:
We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them. ...
We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside. (D&C 134:1, 5)
Those who enjoy the blessings of liberty under a divinely inspired constitution should promote morality, and they should practice what the Founding Fathers called "civic virtue." In his address on the U.S. Constitution, President Ezra Taft Benson quoted this important observation by John Adams, the second president of the United States:
"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Similarly, James Madison, who is known as the "Father of the Constitution," stated his assumption that there had to be "sufficient virtue among men for self-government." He argued in the Federalist Papers that "republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form."
It is part of our civic duty to be moral in our conduct toward all people. There is no place in responsible citizenship for dishonesty or deceit or for willful law breaking of any kind. We believe with the author of Proverbs that "righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." (Prov. 14:34.) The personal righteousness of citizens will strengthen a nation more than the force of its arms. ("The Divinely Inspired Constitution," Ensign, Feb. 1992, 73-74)
The First Presidency
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that a vital cornerstone of a free society is the principle of religious liberty. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids any "law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Ours has been a society which encourages religious liberty and toleration. The result, as pointed out by Mr. Justice Robert H. Jackson of the United States Supreme Court, has been that "nearly everything in our culture worth transmitting, everything which gives meaning to life, is saturated with religious influences." (McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 335-38 .)
We, thus, deplore the growing efforts to establish irreligion, such as atheism or secularism, as the official position of the United States of America, thus obscuring and eroding the rich and diverse religious heritage of our nation. We refer here to attacks on time-honored religious symbols in our public life. Such symbols include:
- The reference to "one nation under God" in our pledge of allegiance;
- The motto 'In God We Trust' on our coins and public buildings;
- "Praise [for] the power that hath made and preserved us a nation" in our national anthem;
- Use of the Bible to administer official oaths;
- The words "God Save the United States and this Honorable Court," spoken at the convening of the United States Supreme Court;
- Prayers at the beginning of legislative sessions and other public meetings;
- The performance of music with a religious origin or message in public programs;
- The singing of Christmas carols and the location of nativity scenes or other seasonal decorations on public property during the Christmas holidays; and
- References to God in public proclamations, such as at Thanksgiving.
From its beginning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has accepted the constitutional principle that government will neither establish a state religion nor prohibit the free exercise of religion. Our formal statements of belief include these principles:
"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may" (A of F 1:11).
"We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul" (D&C 134:4).
"We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy" (D&C 134:7).
"We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world's goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship" (D&C 134:10).
During the course of our history members of our Church have been the victims of official persecution motivated by religious intolerance. We are, therefore, committed by experience as well as by precept to the wisdom of a constitutional principle that government and public officials should maintain a position of respectful neutrality in the matter of religion. If any of our members holding public office have failed to observe that position in any of their official responsibilities we counsel them to remember the principles quoted above.
But the constitutional principle of neutrality toward religion does not call for our nation to ignore its religious heritage, including the religious motivations of its founders and the powerful religious beliefs of generations of its people and its leaders. The basic documents of our land, from the Mayflower Compact through the Declaration of Independence and the writings of the Founding Fathers to the inaugural addresses of presidents early and modern, are replete with reverent expressions of reliance on Almighty God and gratitude for his blessings. The reference to God and Divine Providence in our historic state documents and the other religious symbols summarized above are time-honored and appropriate expressions of the religious heritage of this nation. As the Supreme Court noted in a leading case, "There are many manifestations in our public life of belief in God," and these 'ceremonial occasions bear no true resemblance to the kind of unquestioned religious exercise' that the government is forbidden from sponsoring (Engle v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 435 n. 21 ). ("News of the Church," Ensign, May 1979, 108-109)
DC 134:1 God... holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them
David O. McKay
No member of the Church can be true to his country, true to his Church, true to his God, who will violate the laws which relate to the moral welfare and spiritual advancement of mankind. Members of the Church should uphold the law everywhere. And it is time all of us-the leaders of this country, the politicians, the statesmen, the leaders in civic affairs in the state and in the cities, as well as parents and private citizens-should so speak of and so uphold the constitutional law of the land that everywhere there will be a renewal of respect for it and a revival of the virtues of honor, honesty, and integrity. (Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, compiled by Clare Middlemiss [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1967], 100)
Ezra Taft Benson
We must become involved in civic affairs to see that we are properly represented. The Lord said that He "holds men accountable for their acts in relation" to governments "both in making laws and administering them" (D&C 134:1). We must follow this counsel from the Lord: "Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil" (D&C 98:10). (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 621 - 622)
John Henry Smith
I trust that this feeling pervades the hearts of the people called Latter-day Saints, and that all of us feel within our souls a determination to stand for the principles of right, and sustain our government in every proposition of liberty, justice and mercy and the maintenance of these principles of righteousness, the prevention of the shedding of blood, to the most reasonable extreme. (Conference Report, April 1898, Afternoon Session)
DC 134:2 government [to] secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life
Ezra Taft Benson
America, the land of liberty, was to be the Lord's latter-day base of operations for His restored church... The Declaration of Independence affirmed the Founding Fathers' belief and trust in God in these words: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
The Doctrine and Covenants states, "We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life" (D&C 134:2). Life, liberty, property-mankind's three great rights. ("Our Divine Constitution," Ensign, Nov. 1987, 4)
Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature. (Rights of the Colonists, Nov. 20, 1772)
Dr. Charles Malik
The Honorable George Sutherland, a former student of this institution, later President of the American Bar Association, and a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, carried the same thought a little further when he said, "To give a man his life but to deny him his liberty is to take from him all that makes life worth living. To give him his liberty but to take from him his property, which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave." (BYU Speeches of the Year, 1961, 2)
Ezra Taft Benson
As the French political economist, Frederick Bastiat, phrased it so succinctly, "Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place." (The Law, 1850, p. 6.)
I support the doctrine of separation of church and state as traditionally interpreted to prohibit the establishment of an official national religion. But I am opposed to the doctrine of separation of church and state as currently interpreted to divorce government from any formal recognition of God. The current trend strikes a potentially fatal blow at the concept of the divine origin of our rights and unlocks the door for an easy entry of future tyranny. If Americans should ever come to believe that their rights and freedoms are instituted among men by politicians and bureaucrats, then they will no longer carry the proud inheritance of their forefathers, but will grovel before their masters seeking favors and dispensations-a throwback to the feudal system of the Dark Ages. We must ever keep in mind the inspired words of Thomas Jefferson, as found in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . .
Since God created man with certain inalienable rights, and man, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that man is superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around. Even the nonbeliever can appreciate the logic of this relationship. (God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 283-284)
DC 134:2 the free exercise of conscience
The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence and the Lord cannot violate his own law. ... This is a law which has always existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come. Every intelligent being must have the power of choice. (Improvement Era, 1949, Vol. Lii. July, 1949. No. 7)
President Joseph F. Smith
... all the members of the Church ... [may] express their will according to the God-given agency that every man in the world enjoys. ... The freedom of the Latter-day Saints has never been curtailed nor lessened one whit by their becoming members of the Church of Christ. ... There are no freer people upon the face of the earth today than the Latter-day Saints. (Improvement Era, 1949, Vol. Lii. July, 1949. No. 7)
The First Presidency
The Church, while reserving the right to advocate principles of good government underlying equity, justice, and liberty, the political integrity of officials, and the active participation of its members, and the fulfillment of their obligations in civic affairs, exercises no constraint on the freedom of individuals to make their own choices and affiliations ... any man who makes representation to the contrary does so without authority and justification in fact." (President Stephen L Richards, Conference Report, October 1951, pp. 114-15)
DC 134:3 such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for
The First Presidency
We urge members of the Church to be full participants in political, governmental, and community affairs. Members of the Church are under special obligations to seek out and then uphold those leaders who are wise, good, and honest (see D&C 98:10).
Thus, we strongly urge men and women to be willing to serve on school boards, city and county councils and commissions, state legislatures, and other high offices of either election or appointment, including involvement in the political party of their choice. ("Getting Involved, Giving Service, Growing," Ensign, Feb. 1999, 15)
DC 134:4 unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others
In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers did not qualify their statement regarding the free exercise of religion. What if religion is used as an excuse to persecute others? Is it possible that the colonists did not foresee radical religious entities? What is the government's responsibility in protecting its citizens from religion gone wrong? Historically, this is a common occurrence, from The Inquisition to the more recent phenomenon of a murderous Jihad and everything in between.
"Freedom of religion is one of the basic tenets of the Constitution that prohibits the government from interfering with the free exercise of one's faith. Some religions, however, directly infringe upon other basic human rights, which forfeits their First Amendment right.
"The Followers of Christ Church is one such religion. Some may remember the Worthington case that made headlines this summer. The case involved the death of a toddler whose parents were members of the Followers of Christ Church. Since the church shuns modern medicine, young Ava Worthington died of a preventable infection. She was not the first, nor the last, to die under such circumstances. The Worthingtons were acquitted for the death of their daughter and the father received a slap on the wrist.
"Now another death in the Followers of Christ circle has been reported, and this time it was a newborn. The odds of any justice being offered, if indeed the parents of this infant even get tried, are slim. The acquittal of the Worthingtons set a very dangerous precedent and essentially ignored a statute that forbids religious defense for manslaughter cases involving children. The high mortality rate of Followers of Christ children-more than 26 times the normal rate, as reported in Time-shows how dangerous this sect of society is and that authorities need to step in to prevent such senseless deaths.
"Freedom of religion is a First Amendment right and is part of the Bill of Rights. However, this right comes under scrutiny when it begins to infringe upon the rights of others. Namely, in this case, the right to live." (Will Blackford, Daily Vanguard, Oct. 16, 2009, at http://www.dailyvanguard.com/the-freedom-of-neglect-1.2001273)
"Ian Gilmour has cited the historical case of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre as an instance of papal terrorism on par with modern day terrorism, and goes on to write, 'That massacre, said Pope Gregory XIII, gave him more pleasure than fifty Battles of Lepanto, and he commissioned Vasari to paint frescoes of it in the Vatican'. It is estimated that ten thousand to possibly one-hundred thousand Huguenots (French Protestants) were killed by Catholic mobs, and it has been called 'the worst of the century's religious massacres'. The massacre led to the start of the fourth war of the French Wars of Religion. Peter Steinfels has cited the historical case of the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes and other Catholic revolutionaries attempted to overthrow the Protestant aristocracy of England by blowing up the Houses of Parliament, as a notable case of Christian terrorism.
"Islamic terrorism refers to terrorism by Muslim groups or individuals and motivated by either politics, religion or both. Terrorist acts have included airline hijacking, kidnapping, assassination, suicide bombing, and mass murder.
"The hijacking of four passenger jets and the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 in the United States of America was a significant attack. The controversies surrounding the subject include whether the terrorist act is self-defense or aggression, national self-determination or Islamic supremacy; whether Islam can ever condone the targeting of noncombatants; whether some attacks described as Islamic terrorism are merely terrorist acts committed by Muslims or motivated by nationalism; whether Zionism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict is the root of Islamic terrorism, or simply one cause; how much support there is in the Muslim world for Islamic terrorism and whether support for terror is a temporary phenomenon, a 'bubble', now fading away." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_violence)
DC 134:4 we do not believe that human law has a right to [prescribe] rules of worship... nor dictate forms [of] devotion
John K. Carmack
Government needs power, but that power should be carefully limited so that people are left free to believe what they want to believe, to speak about those beliefs, and above all to practice their religion and share it with others in peaceful ways. Any society that does not safeguard this principle is intolerant on its face. Infringements of religious freedom still exist, and some "enlightened" governments are eroding this basic concept. Without constant vigilance, prayer, and persuasion this principle will fade and die. (Tolerance: Principles, Practices, Obstacles, Limits [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 47 - 48)
DC 134:4 the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience
"Freedom to formulate one's own beliefs in accordance with private conscience, uncoerced by fear of governmental sanctions, and to conform one's conduct to those beliefs, allows sweeping scope to the 'moral agency' of mankind. Moreover, where this freedom is recognized, it necessarily follows that one believer may freely seek to persuade others, by noncompulsory means, to a similar view. According to Alma, the 'virtue of the word of God,' when preached by the Spirit, had 'a great tendency' to lead people to righteous living; it even had a 'more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword' or any other external influence. (Alma 31:5.)
"The difficulty with the concept of freedom of expression, of course, arises from the need, in a variety of situations, to regulate illegal actions. Ideas can be expressed in both words and conduct, and the two are frequently intermingled; it is often difficult to isolate cause from effect, to determine whether public disorders have resulted from words used by a speaker or from the reactions of his listeners. Yet the distinction needs to be made, in order to preserve the integrity of the constitutional command that freedom of speech not be interfered with. 'We believe ... that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.' (D&C 134:4.)
This basic distinction between ideas and conduct is verified by the experience recorded in the thirtieth chapter of Alma. Korihor, the anti-Christ, came preaching throughout the land of Zarahemla, teaching the people that the fundamental doctrines upon which their government was based were nothing but foolish traditions, mere falsehoods promulgated by the priests and teachers of the people for the sake of personal gain. Some of the good citizens of Zarahemla, being offended by these false and vicious doctrines, made a citizen's arrest, bringing Korihor before Alma, the prophet and chief judge. Alma, however, refused to use the power of government to punish Korihor, since, as the record points out, 'there was no law against a man's belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.' (Alma 30:7)" (Arvo Van Alstyne, " 'Just and Holy Principles': An Examination of the U.S. Constitution," Ensign, Aug. 1987, 9)
DC 134:5 We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside
Russell M. Nelson
A saint is an honorable citizen, knowing that the very country which provides opportunity and protection deserves support, including prompt payment of taxes and personal participation in its legal political process. (See D&C 134:5.) ("'Thus Shall My Church Be Called'," Ensign, May 1990, 16)
Dallin H. Oaks
It is part of our civic duty to be moral in our conduct toward all people. There is no place in responsible citizenship for dishonesty or deceit or for willful law breaking of any kind. We believe with the author of Proverbs that "righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." (Prov. 14:34.) The personal righteousness of citizens will strengthen a nation more than the force of its arms.
Citizens should also be practitioners of civic virtue in their conduct toward government. They should be ever willing to fulfill the duties of citizenship. This includes compulsory duties like military service and the numerous voluntary actions they must take if they are to preserve the principle of limited government through citizen self-reliance. For example, since U.S. citizens value the right of trial by jury, they must be willing to serve on juries, even those involving unsavory subject matter. Citizens who favor morality cannot leave the enforcement of moral laws to jurors who oppose them.
The single word that best describes a fulfillment of the duties of civic virtue is patriotism. Citizens should be patriotic. My favorite prescription for patriotism is that of Adlai Stevenson:
"What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? ... A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."
I close with a poetic prayer. It is familiar to everyone in the United States, because U.S. citizens sing it in one of their loveliest hymns. It expresses gratitude to God for liberty, and it voices a prayer that he will continue to bless them with the holy light of freedom:
Our fathers' God, to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light.
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!
("The Divinely Inspired Constitution," Ensign, Feb. 1992, 74)
DC 134:6 We believe that every man should be honored in his station
George Albert Smith
The Lord directs that we seek after good men and great men, and that we pray for and sustain them in order that the laws that are enacted for our government may be such as he would be pleased to indorse. This people may go on exercising a power for the blessing of the children of men in this land that will be felt from shore to shore, and from border line to border line. I am grateful that I belong to a Church that has been directed by our heavenly Father to observe the constitutional law of the land. I am grateful that those men who have led this Church have been inspired by the Lord to teach obedience to law. I am thankful that on the eve of a great election, when we are to choose those who will preside over the destinies of the nation and the states, that we have the word of our heavenly Father that we should select good men, and honorable men, and that the franchise that we are blessed with shall be exercised in the interest of orderly government, and in the interest of the perpetuation of a system of laws that shall continue peace and contentment and satisfaction to all who dwell in this land. (Conference Report, October 1924, Afternoon Session 47 - 48)
DC 134:9 We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government
"The Church is... committed to separation of church and state from the religious side. 'We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied' (D&C 134:9). This does not mean that the Church is precluded from taking a stand on moral or other issues when it is religiously motivated to do so or that religious values must be pushed to the margin of public life; nor does it mean that the Church cannot have indirect influence on the state as a result of the Church's efforts to teach religious principles and to make positive contributions in its members' lives. It does mean that it is inappropriate for a religious organization to manipulate the machinery of secular power to procure advantages for itself or disadvantages for others." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 282)
The First Presidency
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the doctrine of the separation of church and state; the non-interference of church authority in political matters; and the absolute freedom and independence of the individual in the performance of his political duties. If, at any time, there has been conduct at variance with this doctrine, it has been in violation of the well settled principles and policy of the Church.
We declare that from principle and policy, we favor: The absolute separation of church and state; No domination of the state by the church; and no church interference with the functions of the state;
No state interference with the functions of the church, or with the free exercise of religion;
The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs; The equality of all churches before the law. (Conference Report, April 1907, Afternoon Session. 14.)
DC 134:10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members
James E. Faust
A few may lack understanding of the real commitment of the faithful. For instance, a critic recently wrote that obedience to commandments such as tithing is mandatory. In order to claim certain blessings, obedience is certainly obligatory, but compliance is never mandatory-that is, forced. Nothing is mandatory in this church. Free agency is a cardinal principle of [page 9] obedience. Obedience comes from love of God and a commitment to his work. The only punishment for serious transgression or apostasy is the removal of members from the society and fellowship of the Church. (See D&C 134:10.) ("The Abundant Life," Ensign, Nov. 1985, 8-9)
Charles W. Penrose
I read this (D&C 134:4, 10) that our friends present may have an idea of what we think we may do, and what we ought not to do; and to show that if those who belong to our Church transgress the rules of the Church, they can be dealt with for their fellowship, and for that only. We do not believe that we have any right to deprive them of property. We do not believe that we have a right to punish them physically. We do not believe that we have a right to inflict any penalty upon them, except it be in relation to their fellowship. They can be suspended from fellowship, or they can be excommunicated for transgression, and that is the end of our power in this Church concerning them. That is what we believe. That is what we practice. (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], vol. 3, May 15, 1892)
Harold B. Lee
Sometimes, too, stake presidents, bishops, and others are so anxious about not offending someone, that they do not confront them when there is serious moral transgression.
I was in a stake conference recently where one of the bishops frankly stated that he had determined that he would never excommunicate any person no matter what the sin. I told him that if this was his true feeling, then he was in the wrong position-as a common judge in Israel. Whenever I have been asked by a bishop or stake president as to how he should handle a given case, I have usually replied that it was his responsibility as a bishop to make that decision and not mine as a General Authority, and that in making his decision he had better be sure that he was right. To be a judge requires spiritual guidance, tact, and wisdom, but it takes courage when action is necessary. I do not think such situations call for stake presidents and bishops to be insensitive or militant, but stake presidents and bishops must realize that the gospel is designed to change us all, to make us more like the Master. When we let members lead a double and destructive life, instead of doing them a favor as we suppose, we damage them, sometimes, irreparably. We must let the light of gospel standards shine fully, and not try to deflect the penetrating rays of its standards. The gospel is to save man, not to condemn them, but to save, it is sometimes necessary to confront and to discipline as the Lord has directed us. When individuals are on the wrong path, our task is to redirect them lovingly, and not to watch idly from our vantage point on the straight and narrow path. (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 118)
DC 134:11 We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances
Dallin H. Oaks
Some have asserted that a conscientious Christian can never use the courts to resolve disputes. A few illustrations will suffice to indicate that this extreme is unrealistic and even at odds with the scriptures themselves.
Modern revelation directs that a person who has killed, robbed, stolen, or lied "shall be delivered up and dealt with according to the laws of the land." (D&C 42:79, 84-86.) Those laws are, of course, administered in the civil and criminal courts.
The Church's "declaration of belief," published in 1835, states: "We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same." (D&C 134:11.) This declaration obviously contemplates that there will be some circumstances in which a Latter-day Saint will appropriately use the courts, since that is the usual way of appealing to the civil law for the redress of wrongs and grievances.
In addition, there are a multitude of circumstances in which a person cannot avoid being involved in litigation. This is almost always true of persons who have been sued by someone else and have to go to court to defend themselves. There are also circumstances in which a person is compelled to initiate action in a court because a judicial decree, order, or judgment is the only way our laws provide to achieve a result that is desirable and, in many circumstances, perfectly righteous. Examples include decrees of probate, adoption, or divorce, and a court order declaring the meaning of a contract or clarifying the ownership of property. Persons who are public officials, trustees, or officers of a corporation have fiduciary responsibilities that sometimes require them to initiate litigation. These individuals do not have the freedom to forgo litigation even if they have personal preferences against it.
These examples do not exhaust the circumstances in which one can appropriately be involved in litigation, but they are surely sufficient to require us to reject the extreme position that a Latter-day Saint is never justified in going to court.
At the opposite extreme, some Latter-day Saints have apparently assumed that there are no religious restraints on participating in litigation, thus succumbing to the popular notion that every wrong must have a legal remedy, properly enforceable in court. (The Lord's Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 155-156)
DC 134:12 we do not believe it right to interfere with bondservants
This statement is not meant to justify slavery. It merely counsels elders on how to act with respect to preaching and baptizing slaves. Paul gave similar counsel-not to justify the institution of slavery but to teach how servants and masters should treat each other (Col. 3:22-24).
Another reason for this statement regarding bondservants comes from false accusations brought against the church. One of the most inflammatory ideas was that the Mormons were abolitionists. If fear of Mormons wasn't enough, fear of slaves revolting en masse was worse. Elder Richard W. Young stated, "when our people went to Jackson County, Missouri, under charges that were baseless, they were driven out, and made to sacrifice their property, both real and personal. I may say here, that perhaps the chief charge made against our people at that time was that they were abolitionists, that they did not believe in the enforced slavery of the negro race; and it was largely upon that ground our people were compelled to suffer." (Conference Report, October 1906, Second Overflow Meeting. 101 - 102)
It should be the duty of an Elder, when he enters into a house, to salute the master of that house, and if he gain his consent, then he may preach to all that are in that house; but if he gain not his consent, let him not go unto his slaves, or servants, but let the responsibility be upon the head of the master of that house, and the consequences thereof, and the guilt of that house is no longer upon his skirts, he is free; therefore, let him shake off the dust of his feet, and go his way. But if the master of that house give consent, the Elder may preach to his family, his wife, his children and his servants, his man-servants, or his maid-servants, or his slaves; then it should be the duty of the Elder to stand up boldly for the cause of Christ, and warn that people with one accord to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and for the Holy Ghost, always commanding them in the name of the Lord, in the spirit of meekness, to be kindly affectionate one toward another, that the fathers should be kind to their children, husbands to their wives, masters to their slaves or servants, children obedient to their parents, wives to their husbands, and slaves or servants to their masters. (History of the Church, 2:263)